In addition to the grand tasting on Saturday, I got to see the Signature Chef Invitational challenge. Six of the areas best chefs competed in a 45 minute Chopped-style competition. They were competing for a bunch of culinary goods from Different Drummers Kitchen and Adirondack Appliance (including a sick Big Green Egg charcoal grill), but, more importantly, for a position to cook at the Grand Gala Reception and Dinner in 2014.
The chefs that competed were
- Chef Brian Bowden (Representing the soon to open Javier’s)
- Chef Rachel Mabb (Representing her private enterprise, Bitches Kitchen)
- Chef John Grizzaffi (Executive Chef and Owner of Garden Bistro 24)
- Chef Brady Duhame (Representing Prime Bar and Grill in Clifton Park)
- Chef Marla Ortega (Executive Chef and Owner of Illium Cafe)
- Chef Giovanni Morina (Executive Chef and Owner at Gio’s Culinary Studio)
They were paired off and cooked in twos. The secret ingredients were snails, calamari, crayfish, and quail. The chefs were able to bring two ingredients from home. Three of the chefs made one of their choices fresh pasta dough (or sheets). Steve Barnes was the MC for the event, and he was walking between stations trying to figure out what was going on as it was happening.
I took a bunch of pictures of the action.
Each chef was challenged to prepare an appetizer plate and a main dish, and they were all scored by a panel of chefs and writers, including the world acclaimed Suvir Saran.
Steve Barnes announced that Chef Giovanni Morina won the competition on his Table Hopping blog.
This was a fun event to be a fly on the wall for.
I got to make some observations:
- Chef Bowden didn’t bring any additional ingredients. He was pretty clear that it was his first time competing in something like this, so it’s interesting to think of how it could have turned out if he did bring something.
- The burners on Chef Bowden’s range kept dying. I don’t know how he didn’t start flinging pots because of this.
- Chef Duhame (whom I met and spoke with after the event) brought ricotta cavateli dough and a crazy amazing cavateli cutter that had a crank. One of the pictures in the slideshow is of his beautiful cavateli.
- In addition to his two ingredients, Chef Duhame also brought a bunch of fancier and larger plates. Since plating was a parameter that was judged upon, some other spectators and I were debating the consideration of the plates as ingredients.
- I got to speak with Chef Bowden about what he’s working on in Saratoga, Javier’s. As I told him, I’m really excited to see what he brings to the Spa City. It’s going to make things up there really interesting!
- Throughout the competition, Chef Dominique Brialy (of Epicurian Bistro in Latham) who won the competition in 2012, was walking around monitoring the amount of waste that was being generated by each chef and how waste was being utilized and minimized. Having seen lots of these short competitions on TV, I couldn’t understand the practicality of this. On things like Chopped, the first thing you see the competitors do is hack the ingredients into the portion they want to deal with and set the rest aside. What were the chefs going to do with the ends of onions or shallots in 45 minutes, make stock?
- The two secret ingredients that Chef Marla Ortega brought were salsafy and purple Okinawan potatoes. I got a good chuckle from that because it reminded me of something that Chef Ortega is working on for me and Cassie (an event that I’ll be writing about in the very near future).
- I got to see and speak with my good friend TR Laz, who was the official photographer for the entire festival (we worked together on a project back in 2007). He made the mistake of calling me the “f word“, but he and I hugged it out, and he agreed with my explanation of why that word is terrible.
- All of the chefs seemed to have a great time competing, and all kept their composure. I don’t know if I could handle something like that!
- Chef Marla was the only one to make stuff flame up, and she did it like four times, each time the flame got bigger. (There’s a picture with the biggest one in the slideshow.)
- Oh, I have no information on what the dishes the chefs prepared. As they were finished, they went right out for judging, and I don’t think they announced what the dishes were anyway. I know that one of chef Giovanni’s dishes was a pasta dish that he insisted was overcooked.
I had such a great time attending the little I did of the festival. I can’t wait for 2014!